Although the various compilations of quotations by Bartlett, Fuller, Stevenson, and the like abound with appropriate references to the qualities of comradeship, honesty, manliness, bravery, and the sea and seamen, I have refrained from using them. Those whom I most hope to reach with this essay would shy away from the pedantic tone which distinguishes the quotation-filled type of essay.
In today’s Navy there are numerous instances with universal appeal which illuminate the intangible factors in a degree equal to, if not superior to, that attained by recurrent references to quotations.
Much has been left unsaid: the enlisted man-officer relationship, the racial issue, the “night-life of the single man ashore,” for example. Volumes would be required to cover this subject with any degree of completeness. This essay has been limited to 3,300 words, for a too lengthy essay might becloud the subject, and the clear reactions formed in the reading of a short essay might become obscured in a longer one.
Perhaps some might say that I paint a rather pleasant picture; that the Navy isn’t all peaches and cream, as I have presented it. True, the life has its less happy aspects; but I am not telling why men get out of the Navy —I am telling why they stay in.
A common question asked of those of us who choose the Navy as a life profession is, “Why do you stay in the Navy?”
We can give those who ask that question the “recruiting poster” arguments; but that is only part of the answer. Retirement after twenty years’ service on $107 every month, or after thirty years on $185, is a fine thing to look forward to. Both the Seaman First, mildly amazed that his “Navy Dollar” equals $3.96 in civilian pay, and the long-range statistician who realizes that it would require $32,000 for a civilian to retire on what a Navy enlisted man gets as a twenty-year pension, have good answers to that question.
The famed “three squares a day and a bunk every night,” the free doctoring and hospitalization, plus the free dental care are also good answers. Other answers might be the special benefits for married men, a fine system of life insurance, and pensions for those who become disabled.
But all those answers are concerned with the economic viewpoint, and as answers they are rather easy to spiel off—they are almost too glib. There is something lacking in a recitation of statistics, even though those statistics directly affect us Navy enlisted men. There are other aspects of this life that cause men to re-enlist continually. These, for the most part, are the intangibles—the elusive and subtile but ever-present intangibles.
Formula: one destroyer, two hundred men, a four-month cruise. Result: life-long friendships, indelible memories, an all-around increase in knowledge.
Substitute a carrier and its large population, or a submarine and its select few, and the results are much the same; but a destroyer offers the best example, because in a relatively small unit there is so much “ship.”
Just what that splendid, wholesome feeling is when the ship takes departure from home waters is one of that type of nebulous feelings which offers a challenge to the masters of description and analyzation alike. The young seaman with a deck under his feet for the first time might say that it is adventure, but most of us like to consider ourselves too sophisticated for that. Adventure, we realize, is something found only in the pulp magazines and on the screen. Most of us will admit that a forthcoming cruise means new waters and new lands—all discoveries of our own. For others it will mean renewing old acquaintances and revisiting well-remembered scenes. At any rate, as the ship takes departure, even the most recently married among us ceases to look backward and joins the rest of us in looking forward. And that is one of the secrets of remaining young for our years.
After the special sea-details are secured and the ship’s people settle into their seagoing routine, the slow but irresistible change of relationships begins to take place.
In the charthouse the chief quartermaster is setting up his star finder. One of the cook strikers timidly stands outside. “Chief, can I come in and see where we’re going?” “Sure, kid, have a look. How’s to bring up a couple cans of cream next time, will you?”
Down in number two fireroom the first class is juggling the watch list. “Think I’ll put Henson on with Pop . . . seems to be a good, fast boy.”
When the ship runs into heavy weather, as ships invariably do, those who pictured the Navy as a dress parade every day begin to get a different conception of a sailor’s life. Then, if ever, they show the makings of seamen. During such periods many of those in the Navy decide that one enlistment is their limit.
As the ship digs into the oncoming seas and rolls relentlessly from side to side, the uninitiated curl their toes and look straight ahead. They wonder if the ship will roll back from the big ones, or if the seas will push the ship over even farther until it loses stability and capsizes. But the more experienced smile in their knowledge that their ship can weather those seas, and seas much higher.
Sailors seem to have a vast capacity for enjoying themselves. Time on your hands between watches? . . . break out that well- thumbed novel that is making the rounds of the ship. A little talent aboard? . . . prepare for a happy-hour. The sun is beating down too strongly? . . . get permission to organize a swimming party.
Perhaps there are new men aboard who, in spite of their last names or physical characteristics or peculiar actions, lack a nickname. Then the most imaginative go into deep thought and come up with a “handle” that will stay with the recipient for as long as he is on that ship or perhaps as long as he is in the Navy. No graphs have ever been drawn, nor have any theories been advanced on the subject, but the number of nicknames on a ship seems to be directly in proportion to that ship’s general colorfulness and happiness. Yes, “we’re a’coming but we’re having a good time a’getting there.”
Before the war the accepted policy of the Navy was relatively simple. It could be put into a few words and was always found in the Bluejackets’ Manual: “Uphold the Foreign Policy of the United States, and in addition protect our country from obnoxious policies of foreign countries.” That policy was well upheld—to the delight of our allies and to the dismay of our enemies.
Now, in an even more complex world, the wording of the policy has been changed. It is of necessity more lengthy and somewhat more complicated. It deals, in effect, with the following: maintaining a strong Navy; cooperating with the Army and the Air Force in upholding our national policies; supporting our commerce and our international obligations; guarding the United States, our possessions, and our dependencies.
Those of us who man the ships and planes tend to form the opinion that the Navy’s main policy is to have the ships and planes engage in maneuvers and the men engage in drills—all other operations being incidental. After a little reflection, however, we will admit that our opinion, having been formed during periods of boredom, is perhaps somewhat in error.
All agree that the policy of the Navy is best supported and enforced with guns and bombs; that said guns and bombs can best be carried on ships and planes; and that said ships and planes can be manned best when each person does his job properly.
Navy men, traditionally bold in most matters, have a noticeable tendency to be reluctant in vocal expression of the less carnal emotions. Although it is one of the things which are seldom expressed, all Navy men worthy of the name have strongly felt the warm inner satisfaction which follows upon the performance of a trying task. Whether the part that each of us plays in the Navy’s operations is large or small, an awareness that it contributes to the enforcement of the policy of the Navy greatly alleviates the long days of drills, the long weeks of maneuvers.
We Americans have a justifiable pride in the fact that we are a nation of individualists. Team-work, on the other hand, is also something we greatly appreciate. When men gather to talk of baseball, “Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance” or “Murderers’ Row of the Old Yanks” is usually mentioned. Football, and if the talk goes on long enough, “The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame.”
Wonderful teams are something the Navy also has had, has now, and will continue to have. Call them divisions, call them gun crews, or squadrons or ships—or if you wish, fleets. At any rate, the people of a sports- minded nation like to think of all those units as teams. Individualism—we take pride in it. Team-work—we’re proud of that, too.
The eleven men of the New Jersey’s picked five-inch, 38-caliber gun-crew were not giving one another lectures on individuualism when they got out twenty-one rounds in forty seconds. As individuals, one of that crew may have been a sea-lawyer; another, the ship’s most skilled gambler; and yet another, a great ladies’ man. When the guncrew assembled, however, each concentrated on becoming a member of a team. And it is because of that team that they are well remembered five years later.
Whether ship or man, the same holds true. Individually each ship of “31-knot” Burke’s “Little Beaver” squadron held its own claim to fame. One, for instance, had a crew that threw what was undoubtedly the wildest liberty that jaded Sydney had ever seen. Another, the Dyson, was the only ship of the war to fire her torpedoes over an enemy vessel. (That was because the enemy ship blew to pieces and sank before the second salvo of torpedoes could reach her.) But when DesRon Twenty-Three went into battle formation, each of those ships became a part of what was just about the toughest combination of the Solomons. It was then that each of those destroyers lived its highest.
Good skippers and good ships: that is the combination Navy men yearn for most. Sometimes it is almost painful to see that combination broken up. When Commander Felix Johnson, who had been ordered to a much more important position ashore, made his farewell speech, that lesson was well put across. “She’s a good ship, men,” he said in part; “treat her right and she’ll treat you right.” It was easy to say—almost commonplace—but it was just the right combination of words. And doing and saying the right thing at the right time then was very important— it was the Pacific and it was late ’Forty-one.
And like Columbus’s ship, the Nina, which continued to ply the sea for many years after her day of glory, the Castor still operates between the West Coast and the far reaches of the Pacific. She is a good friend to hundreds of men and a great vessel to ship over on. She got off to a good start and has maintained that pace through many combinations of skippers, execs, and crews.
New teams are always being formed; and by making use of the knowledge learned in the old, the Navy parallels the improvements of the Nation.
The Navy is considered a great breeding- ground for the development of those characteristics which go into the making of a man.
Late in 1944 a badly-crippled heavy cruiser was wallowing in the deep swells of the Philippine Sea. As the rescue vessel approached, a chief boatswain’s mate on the cruiser’s forecastle was almost single- handedly making the laborious preparations of “rigging ship for towing.” Only that time it was no drill and there could be no slipups. It was the labor and skill of men like him that got the twice-torpedoed Houston out of a dangerous situation.
Consider Captain Cromwell. Aware that the rescuing Japanese might, under their torture, possibly force him to reveal what he knew of the forthcoming Marshall-Gilbert operations, he chose to go down with the doomed Sculpin. The last person to leave that submarine was told, “I know too much to go with you.” Or consider Commander Gilmore of the Growler, and his laconic, “Take her down!”
Those are just a few of the outstanding examples; but there are countless instances less known that demonstrate manliness and the development of manliness. The fireman that “turns his hat around and relieves himself” by standing a sick friend’s watch displays it. It is seen in the technicians who labor painstakingly, without reward and without comment, over their equipment. Whether it be the ship’s propulsion plant, the radar and radio gear, or merely a blinker gun, those men realize the importance of properly functioning equipment.
Development of manliness is evidenced in the action of the division’s trouble-maker who “fell down the ladder”—some of those ladders seem to be a hundred feet high. Rather than create an issue of the incident by going to higher authorities—in effect running to Mama—he tries to reason the matter out. From his shipmate’s general lack of sympathy for his condition, he begins to realize that perhaps, after all, he is the thing that’s wrong.
The lookout displays manhood who, rather than stand his watch behind a brine-splattered windshield, takes a more exposed position. Though the new position is much less comfortable, he realizes that he can see better from out there, and as a lookout that is what he is up there for. It is shown by the petty officer ashore who, upon seeing a fellow Navy man being apprehended by authorities, inquires if he might be responsible for the person in trouble and return him to the ship or station. That action will mean a ruined liberty and possible involvement in a Captain’s mast; but unselfishness in such matters is a requisite of manhood.
From deeds of saga-like caliber to small instances which are forgotten in a few days, Navy life is abundant with demonstrations of the meaning of manliness.
Perhaps it is that manliness which is the cause of the special attraction that Navy men hold for women. “The ladies—Oh yes, we must not forget the ladies.” One of the most fantastically imagined types of hero that has ever been palmed off on a reading and listening public is the fickle “love ’em and leave ’em” fellow with a girl in every port. Then again, every legend has some basis in fact.
Most of the men, if they do not get married in their late teens or early twenties, usually manage to retain their beloved bachelorhood until they reach their mid-thirties. There is one important reason for this tendency to remain single: sailors have finer opportunities for meeting a varied assortment of the world’s females than have any other group of men. They become very particular when it comes to choosing a wife.
It is probably of his home-town sweetheart that the young sailor is thinking as the liberty boat stands into the landing of a foreign port. The older man will have visions of the faces of his children as they joyfully receive their exotic souvenirs. Or perhaps over the slapping of the parted waves and the drone of the boat’s engine he can detect a touch of pride in his wife’s voice as she talks to her visitors: “I went to the store and the clerk said that they haven’t been able to import these since the war . . . they’re very expensive you know.”
As the boat unloads, the standard questions are asked and the old warnings are given. “Will this part of town be safe? . . . How much is a pound worth now? . . . How many pesos in a dollar? . . . How many yuans? . . . How many francs? ...” Those questions are answered, but along with the answer goes the inevitable advice. “Watch out for the merchants, the Exec says he was here on a midshipman cruise and those guys are shrewd . . . Keep away from that district, a sailor was killed up there on the last ship that was in here . . . Don’t eat any of the fruit . . . Watch your step. ...”
As the men return to the ship from their liberty they are proud not only of the gifts they have purchased, but also proud in two other respects. The first is that they have seen a different part of the world and have learned new things. The second is that their ship appears in a different light. After having been ashore in a foreign port, their ship seems more like a home. One of the finest sights in a Navy man’s eyes is his moored ship dominating a small port’s harbor scene. It seems that then, more than ever, the ship becomes my ship.
In such places, where the American dollar can purchase so very much, some of the men tend to spend their money at a rapid rate. A week from pay-day (in the Navy a man is always within a week of pay-day) those men will be down to their last dollar. Then one of the oldest traditions of seamen—the unlocked sea-chest—comes into play and proves its value. It offers both a temptation and a challenge to those who might waver. There are not many groups of men in which the rule of unlocked-lockers can be followed; but the Navy is formed of many hundreds of groups of honest men.
After the period in foreign waters there comes the well-known joy of homeward bound. On the cruise back to the States, the men who stood-by before and watched now get a chance to take over and show what they can do. In the wardroom: “Did you see Ensign Smith run down that crate during ship-handling drill? ... I imagine that he could bring the ship alongside the dock nicely.” On the bridge: “Now look, ‘Chicken,’ I’m not going to read any of that light for you . . . try and get it all.” Down in “E” division’s berthing compartment: “You heard right . . . you’re going to be alone on the evaps, now.”
Regardless of the number of times a man returns to the United States, the happy feeling of “going home” is as strong as ever. In the radar shack the eyes of the regular operator are assisted by various others in searching the PPI for that first hazy indication of land. Soon after, on the bridge, the steaming watch lookouts are given much competition. And down in the crew’s quarters the “big time operators” are selling the last remaining chances on the anchor pool.
One of the paradoxes of making a cruise is that it is a wonderful feeling as the ship gets underway, and it is just as fine a feeling as the hook is dropped in home waters. The old principles of compensations and balances don’t seem to function quite the way that the psychologists say they should. We’re not the losers for that. A man can spend his life on the sea and never weary of those twin joys.
The sea is an inconsistent and often a dangerous mistress. She keeps men alert if they wish to continue to call themselves seamen, for the hazards of that life are many. When Wind and Sea join forces to give men battle, courage is the quality they demand above all of their adversaries. During those trying periods the bond of friendship becomes stronger and the greatest of enemies often become friends.
Recently in a Cretan port an unexpected gale broke loose in full force on two of our destroyers which were lying close together, Mediterranean-moor style. As the windward ship bore down helplessly on the leeward ship, the two gigs and the two whaleboats lying between the destroyers were in imminent danger of becoming crushed. The windward destroyer’s chief master-at-arms took the chance of getting crushed along with the boats; but he leaped into one of the gigs and, securing a line to the nearest whaleboat, acted as engineer of one boat and coxswain of two. He cleared the destroyers’ stems just as the other two boats started to fold. On deck, one of the “Pals,” a man who had sworn to “get him whenever I see him on the beach,” was loudest in praising the act. “Did ’ya ever see anything like it? . . . ’ja see him jump and get those boats outa there?”
More fondness for shipmates: that is the way feelings surge after a trial by nature or after a period of hazardous war duty.
There is a subtle yet strong feeling that almost all experience when they take their places among fellow Navy men. It is that feeling which men have for those of their fellowmen who eat with them, who sleep under the same tent or overhead or stars with them, who fight alongside them and who often die with them. It was felt both on the Carthaginian triremes and on the “Big Mo” at Tokyo Bay. It is not brotherhood, for it transcends brotherhood. Nor is it friendship, although it certainly includes friendship. It has never been named, perhaps it never will; but that feeling is one of the most splendid and masculine of all the emotions with which man has been endowed.
An intangible factor? Yet, it is. But factors such as that and all the others listed—and many more—race through a man’s mind when people ask why men stay in the Navy.